I got into the early hours of GoogaMooga yesterday on a press pass.
The tickets were free this year (10 million dollar question: how long will that last?). But the food and drink are expensive. Thankfully I missed the long food lines, but in a state of dehydration I did actually shell out an astonishing $8 bucks for a coconut water drink; things were a little helter skelter on Day One, and the water stand hadn't yet opened at noon.
Rest assured, there's nothing casual here. It's curated. NYC star architect David Rockwell designed much of this staging, and was on hand for a press tour preview. Nathan's and Juniors were in absentia. Featured food included Roberta's Pizza, Blue Ribbon fried chicken. Upscale. Trendy. New Brooklyn.
I'd just returned from Jazzfest in New Orleans, and GoogaMooga's setup was incredibly familiar: tightly well organized, well policed, with a ton of expensive, polished design elements (iconic sculptural meeting points in bright colors, beautifully "casual" store front signage for the food vendors, copper topped bar counter, and more), all professionally fashioned to make it look invitingly informal. The mini "restaurant row" of stalls, cutesy as cute can be, for food and drink, is so adorable you want to take it home for the kids to play in. Remove the "James Restaurant" sign, and insert "Po'Boy" and I'm back in the NOLA Fairgrounds.
The good news was that the Nethermead, that grassy area known as a off-leash heaven for dog owners, tucked deep inside Prospect Park, is like a world unto itself, so that the normal Prospect Park world of bikers, runners, families and picnickers weren't interrupted. And it's fantastical, in a way, to see the Park transformed into a temporary festival ground that has Disney-like elements of fake perfection crossed with headliner bands, Brooklyn foodie celeb names, and some fun inventions, like the huge sculptural metal pig roaster complete with pigs a'roasting.
The bad news (what I saw of it) was the very fact of this event being held in Prospect Park. I had a disquieting sense of invasion, that the "Brooklyn brand," ever-more-hyped, was being grabbed, as in land grab, to help in the creation and promotion of a "brand," the GoogaMooga festival, that is in fact a for-profit venture. And at least in the very early hours of the festival, the crowd didn't look much like the rest of who's in Prospect Park: mainly white, skewed younger, few older folks, few children. Coming out of the festival back into the Park was like coming back to reality out of a curated commercial bubble.
Is there something painful about the marketing of a for-profit event held in the jewel of our public park system? Yes. Period.
Does Prospect Park stand to gain much needed dollars from this festival? I don't know but I'd like to. What's the quid pro quo? That's the real $10 million question.
Will tickets next year, if there's a repeat performance of GoogaMooga here, be free or cost $50? I'd bet they won't be free for long.
How does GoogaMooga compare to Celebrate Brooklyn!? Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of Celebrate Brooklyn! I love that it's free or almost free, that their programming is mostly non-ticketed and offers something for everyone in Brooklyn, that it's non-profit, and that it isn't flashy. But mostly, I love that it's a non-profit, which by definition means its mission is to serve the greater interests of the community. GoogaMooga is a production of a commercial company which aims to make profits.
But, would I go again to GoogaMooga? Yup, especially for free. It's cheaper than a flight to New Orleans, and while the music can't ever be as good, I can get there on my bike.
But that said, given the choice today between another round of GoogaMooga or going to the good old fashioned community-based BayFest down in Sheepshead Bay? I might just head to the latter.
Were you there? What did you think?